Friday, January 21, 2011

Moral bankruptcy at the Economist

"A company’s job is to make money for its shareholders legally. Morality is the province of private individuals and of governments."

This is a quotation from an article in this week's Economist about the recent deal between BP and Rosneft. (http://www.economist.com/node/17961912?story_id=17961912)

It strikes me as an exemplar of moral bankruptcy.

The idea that a company is an entity separable from the individuals in community that compose it is indefensible as if we have dual selves; a private one bound to morality and a public one whose only measure is the present state of what is deemed legal.

The incoherence of this position ought to be recognizable even by the supercharged clever people who write for the Economist but obviously not.

So, for example, let us back track in history and examine an enterprise in Jamaica circa 1740.  It is profitable. The profits are generated legally. This legality is anchored in a broad social consensus and has the full sanction of a legitimate state. It is a sugar plantation and it is worked by slaves.

Is a slave plantation, legally generating profit maximization, a morally acceptable form of organization? According to the Economist, this is apparently a redundant question? Does anyone else imagine that it is? I truly hope not.

The question of slave ownership and organization is neither simply one that can be left to private conscience nor to government legislation: corporate entities are responsible agents (over and above their individual memberships) and should be held accountable not only to what is legal but to what is just.


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